I just watched a 2009 indie called American Violet. If The Hunger Games (as Brian said in the comments on that film) might have been made by “a right-wing splinter group,” this one could have come from an ACLU production company.
But we’re talking about the good side of the ACLU here.
Do you remember the phony drug-war busts in Tulia and Hearne, Texas, a decade or so ago? Mass roundups of innocent blacks based on phony evidence? Cases that eventually fell apart en masse under national scrutiny?
Well, American Violet is a fictionalized version of the case that eventually became Regina Kelly v John Paschall (.pdf). Kelly was one of the innocent people targeted and she had the guts to fight back even though she had a lot to lose.
Here, she’s called Dee Roberts (played very well by first-timer Nicole Beharie), a single mother of four who gets arrested on trumped up charges and is relentlessly pressured to plea bargain — which she will not do.
The movie itself is a straightforward narrative. It’s good but not great — about on par with a decent TV movie, though it has pretty strong acting from the likes of Tim Blake Nelson as an ACLU lawyer and Alfre Woodard as Dee’s mother.
Where it shines is in its unflinching indictment of drug-war and justice-system abuses. It states openly that the feds provide financial incentive to encourage coerced pleas. It talks about the huge percentage of people who give up their rights to jury trials out of fear and pressure. It notes the shameful size of the U.S. prison population. Ultimately, it dwells on the racist aspects of the drug war — appropriate since the busts in Hearne and Tulia were blatantly race-based, as is so much of the awful WoD. Although it uses the 2000 presidential election to establish time and the “tough on crime” rhetoric of the moment, it never goes partisan; it just sticks to its issues.
American Violet never appeared on more than 61 screens during its theatrical release, so it was basically an invisible movie and probably didn’t even make back its production budget. But it’s worth a look.
Especially when you know that the corrupt District Attorney behind the real Hearne busts was so upset by it he tried to suppress it when it showed locally.
That makes it worth something right there. 🙂